PERSIS

BY ALEXADER MACLARE
' Salute the beloved Persia, who laboured much in the Lord.'— Romans
xvi. 12.
There are a great number of otherwise unknown
Christians who pass for a moment before our view
in this chapter. Their characterisations are like the
slight outlines in the background of some great artist's
canvas : a touch of the brush is all that is spared for
each, and yet, if we like to look sympathetically, they
live before us. ow, this good woman, about whom
we never hear again, and for whom these few words
are all her epitaph — was apparently, judging by her
name, of Persian descent, and possibly had been
brought to Rome as a slave. At all events, finding
herself there, she had somehow or other become con-
nected with the Church in that city, and had there
distinguished herself by continuous and faithful
Christian toil which had won the affection of the
Apostle, though he had never seen her, and knew
no more about her. That is all. She comes into the
V.12J PERSIS 881
foreground for a moment, and then she vanishes.
What does she say to us ?
First of all, like the others named by Paul, she helps us
to understand, by her living example, that wonderful,
new, uniting process that was carried on by means of
Christianity. The simple fact of a Persian woman
getting a loving message from a Jew, the woman being
in Rome and the Jew in Corinth, and the message
being written in Greek, brings before us a whole group
of nationalities all fused together. They had been
hammered together, or, if you like it better, chained
together, by Roman power, but they were melted to-
gether by Christ's Gospel. This Eastern woman and
this Jewish man, and the many others whose names and
different nationalities pass in a flash before us in this
chapter, were all brought together in Jesus Christ.
If we run our eye over these salutations, what
strikes one, even at the first sight, is the very small
number of Jewish names; only one certain, and
another doubtful. Four or five names are Latin, and
then all the rest are Greek, but this woman seemingly
came from further east than any of them. There
they all were, forgetting the hostile nationalities to
which they belonged, because they had found One
who had brought them into one great community.
We talk about the uniting influence of Christianity,
but when we see the process going on before us, in a
case like this, we begin to understand it better.
But another point may be noticed in regard to this
uniting process — how it brought into action the purest
and truest love as a bond that linked men. There
are four or five of the people commended in this
chapter of whom the Apostle has nothing to say but
that they are beloved. This is the only woman to
382 EPISTLE TO THE ROMAS [ch.xvi.
whom he applies that term. And notice his instinctive
delicacy : when he is speaking of men he says, ' My
beloved'; when he is greeting Persis he says, Hhe
beloved,' that there may be no misunderstanding
about the *my' — 'the beloved Persis which laboured
much in the Lord ' — indicating, by one delicate touch,
the loftiness, the purity, and truly Christian character
of the bond that held them together. And that is no
true Church, where anything but that is the bond —
the love that knits us to one another, because we be-
lieve that each is knit to the dear Lord and fountain
of all love.
What more does this good woman say to us ? She is
an example living and breathing there before us, of
what a woman may be in God's Church. Paul had
never been in Rome; no Apostle, so far as we know,
had had anything to do with the founding of the
Church. The most important Church in the Roman
Empire, and the Church which afterwards became the
curse of Christendom, was founded by some anonymous
Christians, with no commission, with no supervision,
with no officials amongst them, but who just had the
grace of God in their hearts, and found themselves in
Rome, and could not help speaking about Jesus Christ.
God helped them, and a little Church sprang into
being. And the great abundance of salutations here,
and the honourable titles which the Apostle gives to
the Christians of whom he speaks, and many of whom
he signalises as having done great service, are a kind
of certificate on his part to the vigorous life which,
without any apostolic supervision or official direction,
had developed itself there in that Church.
ow, it is to be noticed that this striking form of
eulogium which is attached to our Persis she shares in
V. 12] PERSIS 883
common with others in the group. And it is to be
further noticed that all those who are, as it were,
decorated with this medal — on whom Paul bestows
this honour of saying that they had 'laboured,' or
•laboured much in the Lord,' are women that stand
alone in the list. There are several other women in
it, but they are all coupled with men — husbands or
brothers, or some kind of relative. But there are
three sets of women, I do not say single women, but
three sets of women, standing singly in the list, and it
is about them, and them only, that Paul says they
'laboured,' or 'laboured much.' There is a Mary who
stands alone, and she 'bestowed much labour on' Paul
and others. Then there are, in the same verse as my
text, two sisters, Tryphena and Tryphosa, whose names
mean ' the luxurious.' And the Apostle seems to think,
as he writes the two names that spoke of self-
indulgence: 'Perhaps these rightly described these
two women once, but they do not now. In the bad
old days, before they were Christians, they may have
been rightly named luxurious-living. But here is their
name now, the luxurious is turned into the self-sacrific-
ing worker, and the two sisters "labour in the Lord.'"
Then comes our friend Persis, who also stands alone ;
and she shares in the honour that only these other
two companies of women share with her. She
•/aboured much in the Lord.' In that little com-
munity, without any direction from Apostles and
authorised teachers, the brethren and sisters had
every one found their tasks ; and these solitary women,
with nobody to say to them, ' Go and do this or that,'
had found out for ttiemseh'^es, or rather had been
taught by the Spirit of Jesus, what they had to do,
and they worked at it with a will. There are many
384 EPISTLE TO THE ROMAS [ch. xvi.
things that Christian women can do a great deal better
than men, and we are not to forget that this modern
talk about the emancipation of women has its roots
here in the ew Testament. We are not to forget
either that prerogative means obligation, and that
the elevation of woman means the laying upon her of
solemn duties to perform. I wonder how many of the
women members of our Churches and congregations
deserve such a designation as that ? We hear a great
deal about 'women's rights' nowadays. I wish some
of my friends would lay a little more to heart than
they do, ' women's duties.'
And now, lastly, the final lesson that I draw from
this eulogium of an otherwise altogether unknown
woman is that she is a model of Christian service.
First, in regard to its measure. She ' laboured much
in the Lord.' ow, both these two words, 'laboured'
and ' much,' are extremely emphatic. The word rightly
translated ' laboured ' will appear in its full force if I
recall to you a couple of other places in which it is
employed in the ew Testament. You remember that
touching incident about our Lord when, being ' wearied
with His journey, He sat thus on the well.' • Wearied '
is the same word as is here used. Then, you remember
how the Apostle, after he had been hauling empty nets
all night in the little, wet, dirty fishing-boat, said,
perhaps with a yawn, * Master, we have toiled all the
night and caught nothing.' He uses the same word as
is employed here. Such is the sort of work that these
women had done — work carried to the point of ex-
haustion, work up to the very edge of their powers,
work unsparing and continuous, and not done once in
some flash of evanescent enthusiasm, but all through
a dreary night, in spite of apparent failures.
V.12] PERSIS 885
There is the measure of service. Many of us seem to
think that if we say ' I am tired,' that is a reason for
not doing anything. Sometimes it is, no doubt; and
no man has a right so to labour as to impair his
capacity for future labour, but subject to that con-
dition I do not know that the plea of fatigue is a
sufficient reason for idleness. And I am quite sure
that the true example for us is the example of Him
who, when He was most wearied, sitting on the well,
was so invigorated and refreshed by the opportunity
of winning another soul that, when His disciples came
back to Him, they looked at His fresh strength with
astonishment, and said to themselves, 'Has any man
brought Him anything to eat ? ' Ay, what He had to
eat was work that He finished for the Father, and
some of us know that the truest refreshment in toil
is a change of toil. It is almost as good to shift the
load on to the other shoulder, or to take a stick into
the other hand, as it is to put away the load altogether.
Oh, the careful limits which Christian people nowa-
days set to their work for Jesus ! They are not afraid
of being tired in their pursuit of business or pleasure,
but in regard to Christ's work they will let anything
go to wrack and ruin rather than that they should
turn a hair, by persevering efforts to prevent it.
Work to the limit of power if you live in the light of
blessedness.
She * laboured much in the Lord,' or, as Jesus Christ
said about the other woman who was blamed by the
people that did not love enough to understand the
blessedness of self-sacrifice, 'she had done what she
could.' It was an apology for the form of Mary's
service, but it was a stringent demand as to its amount.
•What she could' — not half of what she could; not
2b
386 EPISTLE TO THE ROMAS [ch.xvi.
what she conveniently could. That is the measure of
acceptable service.
Then, still further, may we not learn from Persis
the spring of all true Christian work ? She ' laboured
much in the Lord,' because she was 'in Him,' and in
union with Him there came to her power and desire
to do things which, without that close fellowship, she
neither would have desired nor been able to do. It
is vain to try to whip up Christian people to forms of
service by appealing to lower motives. There is only
one motive that will last, and bring out from us all
that is in us to do, and that is the appeal to our sense
of union and communion with Jesus Christ, and the
exhortation to live in Him, and then we shall work in
Him. If you link the spindles in your mill, or the
looms in your weaving-shed, with the engine, they
will go. It is of no use to try to turn them by hand.
You will only spoil the machinery, and it will be poor
work that you will get off them.
So, dear brethren, be ' in the Lord.' That is the secret
of service, and the closer we come to Him, and the
more continuously, moment by moment, we realise
our individual dependence upon Him, and our union
with Him, the more will our lives effloresce and
blossom into all manner of excellence and joyful
service, and nothing else that Christian people are
whipped up to do, from lower and more vulgar motives
than that, will. It may be of a certain kind of inferior
value, but it is far beneath the highest beauty of
Christian service, nor will its issues reach the loftiest
point of usefulness to which even our poor service
may attain.
Persis seems to me to suggest, too, the safeguard of
work. A.h, if she had not ' laboured in the Lord,' and
V. 12] PERSIS 387
been 'in the Lord' whilst she was labouring, she
would very soon have stopped work. Our Christian
work, however pure its motive when we begin it, has
in itself the tendency to become mechanical, and to
be done from lower motives than those from which it
was begun. That is true about a man in my position.
It is true about all of us, in our several ways of trying
to serve our dear Lord and Master. Unless we make
a conscience of continually renewing our communion
with Him, and getting our feet once more firmly upon
the rock, we shall certainly in our Christian work,
having begun in the spirit, continue in the flesh, and
before we know where we are, we shall be doing work
from habit, because we did it yesterday at this hour,
because people expect it of us, because A, B, or C
does it, or for a hundred other reasons, all of which
are but too familiar to us by experience. They are
sure to slip in ; they change the whole character of the
work, and they harm the workers. The only way
by which we can keep the garland fresh is by con-
tinually dipping it in the fountain. The only way by
which we can keep our Christian work pure, useful,
worthy of the Master, is by seeing to it that our
work itself does not draw us away from our fellowship
with Him. And the more we have to do, the more
needful is it that we should listen to Christ's voice
when He says to us, ' Come ye yourselves apart with
Me into a solitary place, and there renew your com-
munion with Me.'
The last lesson about our work which I draw from
Persis is the unexpected immortality of true Christian
service. How Persis would have opened her eyes if
anybody had told her that nearly 1900 years after
she lived, people in a far-away barbarous island would
388 EPISTLE TO THE ROMAS [ch. xvi.
be sitting thinking about her, as you and I are doing
now ! How astonished she would have been if it had
been said to her, 'ow, Persis, wheresoever in the
whole world the Gospel is preached, your name and
your work and your epitaph will go with it, and as
long as men know about Jesus Christ, your and their
Master, they will know about you. His humble servant.'
Well, we shall not have our names in that fashion in
men's memories, but Jesus will have your name and
mine, if we do His work as this woman did it, in His
memory. * I will never forget any of their works.'
And if we — self-forgetful to the limit of our power,
and as the joyful result of our personal union with
that Saviour who has done everything for us — try to
live for His praise and glory in any fashion, then be
sure of this, that our poor deeds are as immortal as
Him for whom they are done, and that we may take
to ourselves the great word which He has spoken,
when He has declared that at the last He will confess
His confessors' names before the angels in heaven.
Blessed are the living that ' live in the Lord ' ; blessed
are the workers that work 'in the Lord,' for when
they come to be the dead that ' die in the Lord ' and
rest from their labours, their works shall follow
them.
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